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Canvascon Q&A

Posted by Administrator Sep 24, 2018

On September 11th, 2018, I had the honor to share a Canvas Community Q&A panel with Bobby Pedersen, Stuart Ryan and Jayde Colquhoun.  After Barrett Doran introduced everyone, we each spoke briefly about our roles and how we came to be involved with this community.  Then it was on to open Q&A with attendees sending up questions using an app on their phones.  We didn't even come close to answering them all.  After the session, I took the liberty of grabbing some of the questions that seems to me particularly aimed at Instructure and, with a lot of help from Renee Carney, Christi Wruck and Chris Hunter, came up with the following answers. 


If you have additional questions or comments on any of these, please do not hesitate to post them in the comments. 


Is the active and vibrant community and sense of responsiveness with the developers the main reason for Canvas' popularity?

The existence of the community, which contains high quality up-to-date documentation with many opportunities for people to connect and share, as well as responsiveness by the company, are two main factors often listed by people who answer surveys about why they chose Canvas.  Canvas is also often chosen in competitive processes because of simplicity of design and powerful toolsets.


After the instructor guides, what is the next best source of info?

The Canvas Guides (Student/Instructor/Admin) are meant to be the definitive source of official Canvas related knowledge - that is knowledge about how Canvas is designed to function.  The Q&A forums and discussions are often a better source of information about how people use Canvas and how it fits into their teaching and learning processes. Performing a global search will get you both kinds of information in one search.


What is an underused area of the community that more people should access?

There are a few areas that come to mind right away.

  1. CanvasLive:  CanvasLive gets a fair amount of use, but it could get a lot more.  In the most simplest of terms, it is a way for Community members to share web based or on-site events with other Community members.  This space accommodates a wide spectrum of events and provides easy ways to view upcoming events and RSVP.  Many events are also recorded and when the recording links are added to event descriptions, become a part of the community knowledge base. 
  2. News: News is a very powerful feed that each Community member can customize to stay current on topics that matter to them.  Custom Streams can be created to keep tabs on specific people, places, or tags in the community--providing a personalized feed!
  3. Updating your notification preferences and utilizing the community inbox make it much easier for many community members to manage communication and keep up with resources and conversations that they care about.


What is the easiest way to learn how to use the community? It is like a spider web!

The your journey into the community can be as shallow or as deep as you want it to be!  There are two main resource that will be helpful. First; the Community Guides.  These guides cover the basics on the tools used to engage in spaces of the community.  The second resource is the Getting Started page, which provides a summary list of links for learning your way around Canvas and the Community.


How do I know where I should post things in the community? I find this really confusing?

The community is a big place with lots of nook and crannies so it is very understandable that you might be confused about where to post.  The answer is; it depends! If you have a comment about a specific guide article, such as the way it is worded is confusing (or particularly helpful!), posting a comment on that article is appropriate.  If you have a question about how something works in Canvas, more generally, and you can’t find your answer listed in the Q&A area, feel free to post a new question there. If you want to join or start a general discussion about, say, accessibility or teaching a given subject, starting a discussion in one of the user groups would be the way to go.  The shorter answer is that it matters less where you post in the community and more that you actually do post. All comments, discussions, questions and ideas posted will be discoverable in the global search.


I feel not always the questions/help needed is about Canvas but are related to LTIs used in Canvas. Is there any ways in future to increase the engagement of Canvas partners in the community?

As you have evidently noticed, some Canvas partners are more active in the community than others.  If you have a question about a specific tool or partner, we recommend doing a global search in order to see where/if people are discussing it.  Often discussion about LTIs takes place in the Developers group but discussions also sometimes get started in the Partners space or in the Question & Answer forums or feature idea submission comments.


What's the easiest way to find experts in certain knowledge areas?

Probably the easiest way to find people with expertise in a given area is to search about that topic and look for the people results in the global search and also to view related discussions to find knowledgeable people in the related discussions and comments.


A lot of good ideas end up in Cold Storage. Does Canvas have a strategy for reconsidering those at any point, or for allowing the community to revive them (with justification)?

One of the balances we have to strike is, on one hand, providing an inclusive process where everyone has a voice and, on the other hand, striving to keep the process of reviewing and understanding the most popular ideas simple - both for people at Instructure and for other Canvas Community members.  When an idea doesn’t get enough votes in its first six months, it goes to Cold Storage permanently. Just because an idea is in Cold Storage doesn’t mean it won’t ever be considered. Anyone in the community may join Cold Storage and anyone may re-submit ideas in Cold Storage for an additional voting run.  Sometimes a given idea becomes more popular over time. You can read more about the voting process here.  When new projects are getting started (Assignments 2.0 for example) our product managers often revisit every related feature idea, including those in Cold Storage.  Sometimes ideas that wouldn’t be developed in isolation get folded into bigger projects.


How long does it take for the idea/suggestions to take place (After getting enough likes)?

Why are some features not implemented even if they have been requested for a long time and have got a lot of votes?

Sometimes a feature idea is implemented into production almost immediately.  Sometimes it takes years. Some will never be implemented (and we will do our best to identify those and say why not).  There are a lot of factors that affect this. Sometimes we have to get some work done before we can fix something else. Imagine if your car had both a hole in the gas tank and dirty spark plugs.  Fixing the plugs before replacing or patching the tank wouldn’t make the car run any better. Other times we wait to do a whole passel of suggestions when we do the equivalent of pulling the engine out with a hoist - that is we refactor an entire tool or area within Canvas all at the same time.  There are a lot of ideas in general and many of them are great ideas. Some great ideas we’d love to build but there always seems to be a higher priority project that comes first and that great idea ends up sitting it out for the time being.


How does Canvas determine the priorities when selecting new releases? Is it purely based on community voting or internal discussions also?


Canvas Product Development Priorities InputsThe Community is an important input into the prioritization process. However, it’s one of seven inputs where ideas come from to be prioritized: Support, Security, Community, Research, Partners, Sales, Customer Success. Through the normal course of business there are many touch points with end users. Each of those touch points is a source of information for us to consider ways to improve Canvas. For example, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that we track page views and user behavior in Canvas. Through research of that data, we learn a lot about what people use and don’t use. Some of you may have received one of our surveys where we ask you how important a function is and how satisfied you are with it (we randomly survey thousands of users each quarter). Institutions considering switching to Canvas provide features and capabilities they would need to have in order to switch. High levels of support tickets in a specific area are a good indication there’s a larger issue than a bug. We visit institutions and interview teachers, students and administrators. Just to name a few of the sources where ideas come to us. All of this information is gathered and reviewed on a quarterly basis to identify the most important areas to focus for the next quarter. What’s consistent across all of the channels where good ideas come from is the source - you.


Why am I sometimes told something is a "feature idea" when I am sure it is a bug?

Not to get too technical but what defines a software bug is when that software is not performing as designed.  This may be due to a coding mistake, or it can happen when changes made to one area of the software have unintended consequences in another.  If a software designer designs software that is hard to use or does seemingly illogical things, that isn’t technically a software bug (even though it may be poorly designed).  If Canvas Support looks at an issue that has been reported and determines that the software is behaving as designed, they may suggest that the person reporting the sad/awkward/confusing behavior submit a feature idea as a way to suggest that the designer change the way the software is designed to behave.


A lot of great feature requests on your forum are long standing and unimplemented. How active is your team in addressing these? Is it actually worth telling my staff to "submit a feature request"?

Community input in the form of feature ideas and voting as well as people providing feedback on ongoing development projects in Canvas Studio (aka Product Priorities) is a very important source of input for our Product team.  Top voted ideas are a formal part of our prioritization process and the reality is that we read every idea that comes in and often re-evaluate every single related idea when embarking on a new development project.


Is Canvas getting bloated? Do all the new features encourage bloat? What are your techniques to keep it simple and easy for students to use?

This is a great question and very central to the difficult decisions we make about what to build and what not to.  When people ask about bloat, some are referring to the user interface getting cluttered and confusing while others are referring to the code and its impact on system performance and development velocity. We work hard to prevent both and address it if it happens.


With regard to the user interface, it starts with designs that use repeatable patterns and consider the hierarchy and frequency of needs. We have created a library of components for user commands so that when the same function is used in different places in Canvas it looks, feels and acts the same. This library is constantly expanding and we’re always working to update all the parts of Canvas as new components are created. All actions/features are not of equal importance nor are they used at the same frequency. When new things are added, we first consider their frequency of use and their relative level of importance with other things on the same page or area of the page. This approach helps us to know what to make more readily accessible or prominent and which things can be placed in a submenu or settings area.


Ensuring the code is just enough to do the job well but not more than is needed is first accomplished by hiring the very best engineers alive - which we do. As a secondary approach, we have a dedicated team who review and update areas of Canvas that can benefit from an update in architecture or fresh approach as technologies improve. Just in the last 7 years, web development technology has evolved tremendously so we’re always reviewing Canvas to keep it up-to-date.



Can we get Canvas to stop telling us things will happen in the Summer or Fall? Some parts of the world have different seasons.

References to Fall or Summer are holdovers from a time when Canvas was used primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and do not make as much sense now that the system is used more globally.  We on the Community team have consciously modified our terminology to refer to annual quarters wherever appropriate. That being said, please don’t be shy about pointing out when we can do better.


What is the long story behind why Canvas has its name?

There is a lot of folklore around how the name of Canvas came to be, one favorite being that each of us is unique and education helps us become our own masterpieces, but the fact of the matter is that Canvas was originally referred to as "Instructure."  By the time Instructure incorporated, there was a need to distinguish between the company and its first product. The company co-founders and early employees chose “Canvas” from a selection of potential names proposed by a consultant. But, don't let that discourage you from seeing Canvas as an open framework on which people create their learning masterpieces.

It’s always exciting to discover better, faster, and more efficient ways to support student learning.  With an increasing number of studies confirming which strategies and techniques support productive learning (and which don't!), retrieval practice repeatedly comes out as a highly effective way to support both remembering and learning.*  


What is retrieval practice?  In short, it’s having students recall facts, concepts or events from memory, as opposed to re-reading or reviewing notes.  


Testing is probably the most commonly known form of retrieval practice, though we often think about testing as an assessment strategy rather than as a way to embed learning.  Another way to use retrieval practice is to read or review content, and then put the content away and see how much of it you can recall.


Have you ever considered building retrieval practice into your Canvas courses?


One approach that beautifully leverages quizzing capabilities in support of retrieval practice is practice quizzes.


Let’s say you teach geography, and you’d like your students to learn the capital cities of 100 countries.  You want to help your students practice recalling capital cities to embed their learning. In this situation, Canvas practice quizzes can be your best friend.


  • You can create a single quiz that tests students’ recall of 10 capital cities at a time;  
  • You can allow students to take the quiz with unlimited attempts; and
  • You can randomise which capital cities students will be quizzed on.  Each attempt is like a whole new quiz!


How can you do that, I hear you ask!


Quizzes Classic



Create a Question Bank called “Capitals of the World”

Create an Item Bank called “Capitals of the World”


Add a quiz question in the Question Bank for each of the 100 capital cities you want your students to practice

Add a quiz question in the Item Bank for each of the 100 capital cities you want your students to practice


Build a practice quiz with the following settings:

Build a practice quiz with the following settings:


As a result, you will have created a re-usable resource that incorporates variety and retrieval practice – efficient for teachers, great for student learning.


Now it’s your turn – how could you use Canvas to support retrieval practice with your students?


*Here are a couple of great books that cover effective learning strategies:

  • Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III and Mark McDaniel
  • A Mind For Numbers:  How to Excel and Math and Science by Barbara Oakley.



Developed in collaboration with

Candice Lim, APAC Trainer

Deleted User, APAC Trainer